When Amir Khan steps into the ring this weekend to face the heavy handed and largely unheralded South American Marcos Maidana, fight fans can be forgiven a twitch of the punting finger as well as a heavy sense of Déjà Vu. We have indeed been here before.
It seems a lifetime ago that Khan was wrecked inside a round by the mysterious Columbian Breidis Prescott, a defeat that eventually led Khan to change trainer, promoter and to an extent, country too. Two years on the Bolton boy has gone from exposed 'would-be' to defending World Champion. So apparently complete has his transformation been that he shares not just a gym with Manny Pacquiao but, according to some, his potential and prospects too. Yet the lingering questions raised by the ghost of Prescott remain; how good is Khan and can he take a punch?
In terms of natural talent, Amir Khan (1.38) has always been loaded but it is only since teaming up with Freddie Roach that there has appeared an authority in his boxing. In spells there are glimpses of that star potential which Roach and Golden Boy promotions talk of yet you wouldn't consider him in the same conversation as Pacquiao, Mayweather or Marquez anytime soon. Khan is definitely progressing but he remains a work in progress.
In May Khan dominated and stopped Paulie Malignaggi, a performance that drew comparisons with similar wins over the New Yorker for both Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto previously. Yes Malignaggi is on the wane, yes he is a top level though not elite fighter and yes, he is a non-puncher but it was an impressive performance from Khan nonetheless. His speed remains a choice weapon and nine times out of ten that wins fights. I still think he looks vulnerable when at close quarters, but he is becoming a stronger all-round fighter and to beat Maidana he might need to be.
The Argentine hard man fights with a purpose and intensity which was enough to discourage another (then) Golden Boy 'star' Victor Ortiz when he made his spectacular American debut last summer. Despite going down three times in the first two rounds, Maidana (3.65) was relentless in pursuit of Ortiz and effectively forced him out the fight which was halted at halfway. His knockdown points win over DeMarcus Corley last time confirmed the impression of Maidana; he is ruthless, dangerous but reckless too. In short, if Khan fights to a game-plan and can punch with enough authority, this is his fight to lose.
There is still a prevailing theme regarding Khan that he is 'chinny' and so plenty will punt Maidana on the theory that if he lands once in the fight then he wins. Put it another way, can Khan avoid his heat for 12 rounds? If you hold that thought then the KO/TKO/DQ (4.1) looks the call ahead of the match odds (3.6); only two of Maidana's last 20 opponents have heard the final bell, he really is heavy handed. As much as I think this is Khan's fight to control, I wouldn't be surprised if he was caught and knocked out.
Both men have completed 12 rounds with Andre Kotelnik: Khan completely dominated the Ukrainian to win this WBA belt while Maidana dropped a squeaky close decision to him in Germany. I think Maidana is better than that suggests and you get the feeling he doesn't really respect Khan. He is however aware that the Brit is an immediate cash cow as well as being a significant launch pad to the big league. He usually fights with zest but believe me, he will be pumped close to hyper for this one and that sort of pressure won't be easy to control.
Still, as Ortiz hinted, Maidana can be out-boxed, hit and decked and Khan has the speed and skill set to make that happen. Both Khan and trainer Roach have hinted at a late stoppage (2.14) but I'm not close to being sold on Amir as a finisher. He is a sharp, volume puncher not a banger and while his accumulative pressure ought to have an effect, I don't see it being enough to prevent a decision win (3.45).
This fight reminds me a little of Khan's thrill-a-minute win against Michael Gomez back in 2008. Like Gomez (only bigger), Maidana is an intense pressure fighter but just as Khan picked off Gomez with precision punching, so there will be times when he will hit Maidana as though shying coconuts at the fair. It won't be an altogether easy ride but Khan has the ability to make him look somewhat clownish. And all those that built Maidana up to be some sort of freakish carnival strong man, might just have to acknowledge Amir Khan as the exerciser of ghosts; maybe even the real deal.
By Alex Steedman
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